Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #27: Wandering Star by Teri S. Wood

It is not common, in a space opera, for the main character to spend pages struggling with herself over the morality of war, and even addressing God outright, looking for meaning in the universe. But the best books are always the uncommon ones.

Teri S. Wood's Wandering Star was unusual from the start: a space opera in comics form, originally self-published with minimalist covers (starting in 1993, the heyday of big and flashy comics), planned to run for twelve issues but eventually running to twenty-one. There were three trade paperbacks collecting the series, during and soon after its run in the mid-90s, but both the book and its creator had mostly fallen off the comics radar by 2016, when Dover reprinted the whole series as one big fat hardcover.

(Yes, Dover: the publisher best known for cheap-but-durable editions of classics, for coloring books, and for other things that are cheap to create and produce. I don't know why they decided to get into the reprinting-90s-comics business, but they clearly are in it: I also have an even larger volume of Puma Blues from them sitting on my too-be-read shelves.)

Wandering Star also had a complicated structure, with an older Cassandra Andrews narrating the story of her younger days -- telling the story of how she was the first human to attend the Galactic Academy, and her troubles there. But we also know this won't just be a simple school story, since Cassandra and her interviewer start talking about "the war" on page three.

Unlike a lot of comics, Wandering Star had a structure to begin with. It may have taken more pages that Wood thought to finish that structure, but it was the same story from beginning to end. (And, as I keep saying about lots of different kinds of comics, stories require endings, and the best stories have their endings implicit in their beginnings.)

So Cassandra went to that Academy, and found first scorn and hazing, and then a few friends. That would have been an interesting story, and possibly even space-operatic enough. But they also found war -- or war found them. And Cassandra, with her new friends and their spaceship Wandering Star, ended up at the center of that war. Partially because Cassandra's father was the President of Earth, and partly just because of who they were, and where they were.

This is a talky book, for a space opera: how people think and feel about the huge events is as important as those events, and the pew-pew space battles aren't the point. Those battles, actually, are scary and dangerous and horrible here -- the way real battles actually are, for civilians stuck in the middle of them. In best space opera fashion, Wood has a magnificent villain, with splendidly horrible justifications for everything he does. Even if she had kept the battles off the page entirely, just Narz's dialogue would be enough to make Wandering Star a space opera.

(For my SF-reading friends: I said space opera, and I meant it. Do not expect serious science, explanations of FTL drives, or intricate politics. Do expect planet-killing weapons, esper powers, and crazy ideas to save the Galactic Alliance that Just. Might. Work.)

Wood uses Cassandra's doubts and fears to give Wandering Star a real grounding: this is a space epic where the deaths matter, and the coruscating beams of power do more than superficial damage. If you like space adventure, and you like comics, you have a treat ahead of you.

1 comment:

Melita said...

I was thrilled when I heard about this collection last year. Wandering Star was one of my favorite indies.

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